I hope you’ve been practicing your increases and decreases, because you’re really going to need them this week. We’re tackling lace knitting, so ready your needles and your patience.
I like to say that there are no hard patterns, only complicated ones. See, once you’ve learned the basic stitches, all you do to make complex lace patterns is follow the organizational instructions for the increases and decreases to make a beautiful design. You have to count and pay close attention, but really, no patterns are completely impossible.
Lace is just a series of yarn overs (which create a hole) and decreases (using k2tog and slip slip knit to lean in the preferred direction) between stockinette stitches. The way that you organize them determines what the lace looks like. Generally, a single repeat will have the same number of decreases as yarn overs, so the final stitch count will be the same at every row. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really just about following directions.
Speaking of directions, there are two ways that lace patterns are explained: written and charts.
Written directions are exactly what they sound like. The instructions are written as a series of stitches. Sometimes they will use “rep to end,” which means you repeat the pattern until the end of the row or round.
For example: k1, k2tog, yo, rep to end
If you are only supposed to repeat part of the pattern, this will be indicated by an asterisk or brackets. Sometimes they will tell you to repeat until a certain number of stitches before the end of the row.
For example: k1, k2tog, yo, [k3, k2tog, yo], rep to 2 before end, k2
A good example of a lace hat pattern that uses written instructions is the Arrow Hat. Or if you have enough head wear, try the Tilting TARDIS Cowl (you may have to join Ravelry to access that, but it’s free).
Charts take this exact information and put it in picture form. They’re usually a grid, with a key telling you what different symbols mean what stitches. You then read it from bottom to top and right to left.
Each of these has drawbacks and benefits, and really, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Charts are nice because you can see what the pattern is supposed to look like, but sometimes it’s easy to lose your place. Written directions are pretty easy to follow but can be hard to visualize and see if you’re doing it right. However, since many patterns out there only provide one or the other, I recommend you get comfortable with both, and when you get one of the nice designers who provides each, you can take your pick.
The Easy Leaves Scarf (see? you can do it because “easy” is right in the name!) provides a chart as well as written instructions, so you can try reading both and see what you prefer.
There are a lot of pretty lace charts out there that aren’t specifically made into patterns. My favorite is the relatively simple gull lace, which is used in several patterns. It was made famous with the Two Needle Baby Sweater in the book “Knitter’s Almanac” by Elizabeth Zimmerman, which was then adapted into the February Lady Sweater (which I made!) and countless scarves, hats, blankets, and anything else you can slap a lace design on. It’s pretty easy and looks nice, so if you just want to play around, that’s a good one. You can also search Knit Wiki for lace patterns to play with.
And it’s perfectly okay, even expected, for your lace to come out like an impossible mass of holes with no distinguishable pattern the first few times. Trust me, I may be a righteous (and humble) knitter now, but the first time I made a lace beret I forgot to use a stitch marker at the beginning of the round and everything was all askew. It wasn’t pretty.
This picture doesn’t completely capture the horror of it, but I can’t take another because I donated it to the occupiers in Zuccotti Park back in October. I think that’s the only one I won’t feel bad about if it wound up in the big dumpster the NYPD brought.
As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help. Now that we’ve got the basics under our belts, we can keep moving forward with the fun stuff.